Dictionary of Art and Artists


that Changed the World


  Lascaux Caves Manesse illuminated Massys Callot Friedrich Picasso
  Tutankhamen's tomb Lorenzetti Grunewald Rembrandt Constable Matisse
  Europa and Minotaur Karlstein Castle Baldung Claude Lorrain Delacroix Marc
  Banquet Tomb Limbourg brothers Altdorfer Velazquez Turner Kandinsky
  Pompeii Van Eyck Cranach Vermeer Ingres Monet
  Birth of Christianity Della Francesca Holbein Rigaud Manet Chirico
  Hagia Sophia Uccello Titian Watteau Burne-Jones Modigliani
  Book of Kells Mantegna Bruegel Canaletto Seurat Chagall
  St Benedict Botticelli Vicentino Boucher Van Gogh Kahlo
  Bayeux Tapestry Anonymous Arcimboldo Fragonard Toulouse-Lautrec Dali
  Donizo manuscript Durer El Greco Gainsborough Munch Ernst
  Liber Scivias Bosch Theodore de Bry John Trumbull Cezanne Hopper
  Carmina Burana Da Vinci Caravaggio David Gauguin Bacon
  Falcon Book Michelangelo Rubens Gros Degas Warhol
  Giotto Raphael Brouwer Goya Klimt  

From Lascaux to Warhol

Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.

William Butler Yeats




A Hotbed of Crime and Fornication

Martin Luther's "Ninety-Five Theses" and schism



Whatever happens on pilgrimages other than whores and knaves from all over the place get together for their fun? And does the Pope do anything other than defile and prostitute himself? We want neither to go on pilgrimages nor to heed the words of the Pope, but only to seek God in our hearts.

Martin Luther, "Table Talk", 1537


Wittenberg Castle Church:
Martin Luther reputedly nailed his
"Ninety-Five Theses" to the portal

Cranach Lucas the Elder
Martin Luther Preaching

General view of the altar predella in St Mary's Church, Wittenberg

Cranach Lucas the Elder
Portrait of Martin Luther

Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg

Trouble was brewing in Europe: abuse of authority, ostentation, debauchery and bribery. Or so some Christians viewed the state of affairs around 1500.They considered the Pope the devil incarnate and his Church a bastion of lust, stupidity, greed and corruption. The sermons of the Dominican Johann Tetzel were water on the critics' mill. In 1517 Tetzel proclaimed that the Pope had granted him such authority that he could grant absolution even to someone who confessed he had fathered the child of the Virgin Mary — that is, if the sinner was to pay.

For some time now pulpits had been resounding with sermons offering remission of sins for money and a direct path to Heaven without a detour through Purgatory. The sermons preached by Johann Tetzel, however, were the ones that provoked Martin Luther, an Augustine monk and professor of theology at Wittenberg. In mounting a challenge, Luther said it was utter nonsense to think God could be bought. He held that the only thing one could do for one's salvation was to believe in God and live accordingly. Luther was in a rage when he wrote out his "Ninety-Five Theses". He is said to have nailed them to the portal of Wittenberg Castle Church on 31 October 1517. All that has been conclusively proved by historians, however, is that he sent his "Theses" to his bishop on the Saturday that marks the beginning of the Reformation.

Luther's goal was a theological debate; the authorities would have none of it. But thousands of copies of the "Theses" had been made and distributed, thanks to the new technology of printing, and a popular movement coalesced around them. It was too late for the ancient Church: the Reformation became a revolution, scourging pilgrimages and liturgical practises as "senseless foolery". Led by Luther's rhetoric which was sometimes eloquent and religious, sometimes violent and vulgar, the Reformers went quickly from demanding the abolition of priestly celibacy to a thorough re-casting of the Church. And the movement assumed a political and social dimension, propagated under the slogan: "freedom of Christian people". Together with the Humanist movement, the Reformation effected cultural change on a hitherto unprecedented scale.

Luther had a broad following: he was joined by merchants, peasants, craftsmen and princes. Supported by the princes, Luther was able to stand up to the Pope and the Emperor. Among his followers was the Northern Renaissance painter Lucas Cranach the Elder. At the Wittenberg Court, Cranach became a personal friend of the Reformer. Cranach executed several portraits of Luther, among them one for St Mary's Church, Wittenberg. It portrays Luther in his office as preacher there. In much of northern Europe, the ancient Church was no match for Luther's movement. After the Schism with Rome had taken place, Protestantism was ready to grow into a world-wide movement.

Cranach Lucas the Elder
Martin Luther Preaching
(detail of the altar predella)
Detail of the altar predella in St Mary's Church, Wittenberg


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